Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI) is a well established method for the evaluation of intracranial diseases, such as acute stroke. DWI for extracranial application is more difficult due to physiological motion artifacts and the heterogeneous composition of the organs. However, thanks to the newer technical development of DWI, DWI has become increasingly used over the past few years in extracranial organs including the abdomen and pelvis. Most previous studies of DWI have been limited to the evaluation of diffuse parenchymal abnormalities and focal lesions in abdominal organs, whereas there are few studies about DWI for the evaluation of the biliopancreatic tract. Although further studies are needed to determine its performance in evaluating bile duct, gallbladder and pancreas diseases, DWI has potential in the assessment of the functional information on the biliopancreatic tract concerning the status of tissue cellularity, because increased cellularity is associated with impeded diffusion, as indicated by a reduction in the apparent diffusion coefficient. The detection of malignant lesions and their differentiation from benign tumor-like lesions in the biliopancreatic tract could be improved using DWI in conjunction with findings obtained with conventional magnetic resonance cholagiopancreatography. Additionally, DWI can be useful for the assessment of the biliopancreatic tract in patients with renal impairment because contrast-enhanced computed tomography or magnetic resonance scans should be avoided in these patients.
Keywords: Biliary tract; Diffusion-weighted imaging; Gallbladder; Magnetic resonance imaging; Pancreas.